Reports of Chemical Weapons use in Syria: A Chronology – Working Draft Part 2 [the attacks on 21 Aug 2013]

A Chronology of Reports of
Chemical Weapons use in Syria

Working Draft Part 2 [21 Aug 2013]

This is an account of all the reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including warnings of imminent use. The Chronology is ordered according to the dates on which the events happened
[rather than the dates on which they were reported]

Read Part 1 of this Chronology here

Read Part 3 of this Chronology here

21 August 2013: evidence emerged from Syria of pre-dawn attacks including use of chemical weapons on the Ghouta area in the Damascus suburbs contested by rebel forces and Syrian army units. This attack differs from all previous CW attacks in Syria because of the large number of victims: over 1500 are believed to have died.

Human Rights Watch [HRW] wrote, in their report issued on 10 September 2013: “As more details became available, it became clear that the attack had affected two separate opposition-controlled districts in Damascus Suburbs governorate, located 16 kilometers apart. According to local residents, the Zamalka neighborhood in Eastern Ghouta was struck by rockets at some time between 2 and 3 a.m., and the Moadamiya neighborhood in Western Ghouta was struck by rockets at about 5 a.m., shortly after the completion of the Muslim morning prayer”.

HRW map showing the likely source of CW-carrying rockets fired on Ghouta areas
HRW map showing the likely source of CW-carrying rockets fired on Ghouta

One witness in Moadamiya told HRW, “We didn’t smell anything” — even as people began exhibiting symptoms and fainting, . [In its pure form, Sarin is a clear, colorless, tasteless and odorless liquid. See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Emergency Preparedness and Response: Facts about Sarin,” here.]

“Sarin is a toxic but non-persistent nerve agent. Exposure is usually due to inhalation, and the agent rather quickly degrades and disperses into atmosphere… There are reports that people were able to visit the sites of the attacks a few hours post attack and to handle remnants of rockets associated with the attacks without suffering signs and symptoms of exposure to nerve agent. This suggests that the nerve agent involved is more likely to be the less persistent and less toxic agent, Sarin, rather than VX… The large number of victims of the attack, the clinical signs and symptoms that characterized both the victims and, later, the medical workers who treated the victims, and the fact that areas near attack sites were apparently safe to enter soon after the attack, all strongly suggest that the attack involved an organophosphate chemical more toxic that the pesticide Malathion, and was most likely a toxic but non-persistent chemical warfare nerve agent, such as Sarin, which Syria is believed to possess.

“There is laboratory evidence that Sarin gas has been used in previous attacks allegedly carried out by Syrian government forces, including an earlier attack in Ghouta. A photographer for Le Monde newspaper, Laurent Van der Stockt, was exposed to what he believed was a chemical weapon attack while in Jobar in April 2013. In laboratory tests conducted upon his return to France, he tested positive for exposure to Sarin. [See Le Monde article published on 27 May 2013, here, which is referred to in Part 1 of this Working Draft Chronology]

The HRW report says “The precise identification of the specific chemical agent used in the August 21 attack requires the collection of samples from weapon remnants, environmental samples, and physiological samples from those directly or indirectly exposed to the chemical agent. Subsequent specialized analyses of these samples can reveal the specific agent itself or the reaction or degradation products characteristic of a specific agent.  The UN investigative team has collected such samples, and will issue its findings after the completion of its investigation… This is posted here.

Moadamiya  – [western Ghouta]

A witness in Moadamiya media center told HRW that “all of the rockets were of the same type”  [identified by Human Rights Watch as a Soviet- produced 140mm rocket], and said he counted 7 rockets which fell in two areas of Moadamiya.

HRW says “the attack on Moadamiya on August 21 represents the first known appearance of the 140mm rocket, which has not [previously] been documented in use in the current Syrian conflict”.

“The 140mm rocket is documented in standard reference materials as being present in the Syrian government’s weapons arsenal. Designed in the 1950s, the Soviet Union transferred 200 BM-14 launchers, the most common launcher for 140mm rockets made by the Soviet Union, to  Syria in 1967-1969… according to the database on arms transfers maintained by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

“According to a declassified US munitions catalogue and standard international reference materials published by Jane’s, only three warheads were produced for 140mm rockets:
• M-14-OF high explosive-fragmentation;
• M-14-D smoke containing white phosphorus;
• A chemical warhead containing 2.2 kilograms of Sarin.

“Based on witness statements describing the impact of the rockets and the absence of rocket remnants or reported types of injuries consistent with an attack using high explosive or incendiary payloads, Human Rights Watch believes there is little possibility that the rocket could have been carrying high explosive or incendiary payloads. Given the large number of casualties, this leaves a chemical agent warhead as a strong remaining possibility, which would be consistent with the symptoms displayed by the victims.

HRW graphic showing origin + flight paths of sarin-loaded rockets - 17 Sept 2013

Zamalka – [Eastern Ghouta]

Human Rights Watch documented the use of apparent surface-to-surface 330mm rockets in Zamalka, Eastern Ghouta on August 21. We found no evidence of any use of the 140mm rocket system used in the Moadamiya attack in Eastern Ghouta… Human Rights Watch [was able] to confirm at least four strike sites in Zamalka where at least eight 330mm rockets struck on August 21.  This is unlikely to be a complete account of the number of rockets used in the attack… Based on the lack of evidence of a high-explosive or incendiary attack, and symptoms of victims that are consistent with a chemical attack, Human Rights Watch believes that the 330mm rockets found at the sites were used in the alleged chemical attack…

“The 330mm surface-to-surface rocket that appears to be associated with the August 21 attack on Eastern Ghouta is of a type not listed in standard, specialized, international or declassified reference materials. It is a rocket type that has not been documented before the outbreak of the current Syrian conflict, although it has been documented in a number of other attacks on opposition held areas in the months prior to the Eastern Ghouta attack, including at least one attack in which opposition activists claimed the government had carried out an alleged chemical attack (see next page)…

“Measurements determine that the estimated volume of nerve agent inside the warheads would be approximately 50 to 60 liters, compared to 2.2 liters for the warheads designed for the 140mm rockets.

“Prior to each attack, the warhead of the 330mm rocket would have to be filled with the 50 to 60 liters of nerve agent, a dangerous process that is normally conducted by specialized teams wearing protective gear to prevent exposure to the chemical agents. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any information that the opposition forces have ever possessed the amounts of chemical weapon agent necessary to deploy such rockets, or that they possess the expertise needed to fill the warheads without accidental exposure to the deadly nerve agent…

“[The] dimensions are compatible with the Iranian-produced 333mm Falaq-2 launcher, or close copies and derivatives thereof.  Iran is believed to be the only country in the world to produce rocket launchers in the 333mm category. Videos have appeared showing Syrian forces using the Falaq-2 launching system to launch what appears to be versions of the 330mm rockets, although the launches seen in the video occurred during daytime and are thus unrelated to the August 21 nighttime attack.

“The non-aerodynamic design of the rocket indicates that the rocket would be relatively short-ranged and not capable of accurate targeting. The consistency in the design of these rockets suggests that they were locally but industrially produced, and apparently designed to be deployed with the Iranian 333mm launchers or derivatives thereof.

“While Human Rights Watch cannot establish where the rockets were manufactured, their basic design and unique size matching the Iranian rocket launching system suggest a Syrian industrial origin. The production of a weapon specifically designed to deliver chemical weapons would be a violation of the 1993 Convention on Chemical Weapons, of which only five countries, including Syria, are not parties [n.b. – Syria acceded on 14 September].  While a separate, high-explosive warhead version of the rocket appears to exist based on attacks in other areas, three design differences appear to distinguish the suspected chemical weapon type from the suspected high-explosive type… All of the 330mm rocket remnants identified by Human Rights Watch in the Eastern Ghouta Zamalka attack are of the suspected chemical weapons variant, with red numbering, a shorter-sized warhead, and an additional fill plug.  Most significantly, the design of the payload of the rockets found at the scene of the Eastern Ghouta August 21 attack strongly indicates that it is compatible, and perhaps specifically designed, for the delivery of chemical agents…

Source: “Attacks on Ghouta: Analysis of Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria”, Human Rights Watch, 10 September 2013.  Posted here.

 ************

21 August 2013:  Alternate theory [Tom Wyld]: “Based on my past analyses of the fighting in East Ghouta and appraisals of their involvement in Syrian command and control, I assess as highly likely that Hezbollah and Sepah Pasdaran (Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) were involved in the attack.  If reports are accurate, this is an extraordinary military and geo-political development with grave international consequences”. This is posted here.


End of Part 2

Cease-fire?

All of a sudden, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr appeared on the TV screen — on all the news channels.

In Arabic, FM Amr announced that “efforts had led to a cease-fire, an end to the violence and bloodshed we have witnessed”.   He said this cease-fire would start at 21:00 in Cairo [20:00 GMT].

He read a statement in Arabic, speaking about the end goal being a comprensive and just resolution.  “We are calling for a fair solution to the Palestinian question”, and he said Egypt will continue in its efforts.  And, he indicated that he hoped the divisions between Palestinian factions would end, and the Palestinians will be united.

Then, Sec of State Clinton said, “To hold, the rocket fire must end and a broader calm return”.  She said that the people in the region deserve to live “free from fear and violence”, and that “in the days ahead, the U.S. will work to improve conditions for the people of Gaza, and provide security for the people of Israel”.

@TimothyS — CNN just reported that US will spend an additional $600 million on Israel’s Iron Dome system as part of the Gaza cease-fire agreement.

UPDATE: An alternative theory: RT.com reported on 23 November, here, relying on a report on the not-always-reliable Debka.com, that “the pause in fighting comes after the US promised to send troops to Sinai. According to Debka, US troops will soon be en route to the Sinai peninsula…Debka reports this week that Sinai will soon be occupied by US troops, who were promised by President Barack Obama to Israel’s leaders as a condition that a ceasefire be called. Once deployed, the Americans will intervene with the rumored arms trade orchestrated by Iranians, ideally cutting off supplies for Hamas while at the same time serving as a thorn in the side of Iran…The decision to send US troops to Sinai in exchange for a ceasefire was reportedly arranged early Wednesday morning after Pres. Obama made a deal over the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu…A ceasefire has since been called after a week of fight, but more military action could soon occur, claims Israel, if the flow of weapons to Gaza is not stopped… Debka’s sources suggest that US troops may now have to intervene in Sinai if any smugglers should attempt to move weapons into Gaza. ‘By opening the Sinai door to an American troop deployment for Israel’s defense, recognizes that the US force also insures Israel against Cairo revoking or failing to honor the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979’, adds Debka.  According to their sources, US troops are expected in Egypt early next week”.

The Guardian reported here that “Barack Obama heaped praise on Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire plan and offered increased US funding to beef up Israel’s air defence batteries.  The White House, in an unusual twist, highlighted that Netanyahu had followed Obama’s advice, which was to accept the ceasefire deal…[The White House statement] publicly stressed the fact that Netanyahu had taken Obama’s advice. ‘The president commended the prime minister for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal – which the president recommended the prime minster do – while reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself’, the White House said.”

Continue reading “Cease-fire?”

Day 2 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds – Today is Palestinian Independence Day

Today, 15 November, is Palestinian Independence Day. The employees of the Palestinian Authority [PA] in the ministries in Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank are off work for what will be a 3-day holiday. In a rare sign of solidarity, the otherwise disgruntled Palestinian East Jerusalem merchants will also close their shops to mark the date that Yasser Arafat declared the independent Palestinian state, at a meeting of the PLO’s Palestine National Council in Algiers.

In Gaza, people are reeling under [another] full-scale Israeli attack — this one, like the previous ones, designed to “bring about an improvement in the security reality and allow a normal life for the residents of the State of Israel” [Israeli Security Cabinet communique Wednesday evening 14 November].

The Security Cabinet also stated that “Alongside the military effort, Israel will, to the best of its ability, work to avoid harming civilians while honoring the humanitarian needs of the population, in keeping with the rules of international law”.

Israel’s new-found appreciation of international law dates to the fallout from its interception of the Freedom Flotilla on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean at the end of May 2010. A handful of Israeli special forces boarding the 600-passenger Mavi Marmara in the dark were outnumbered and surrounded, and killed 9 Turkish men, including one Turkish-American high school student.

Without dwelling on the academic distinction between “international law” and “international humanitarian law [which pertains in situations of occupation, for example] it has to be said that there is wide room for various argued-understandings of the construct.

By the time the Security Cabinet convened, there were already casualties — some of those specifically targetted, like the Hamas military chief Ahmad Jaabari, and then the absolutely and completely innocent victims, like this 11-month-old baby boy, Omar Jihad al-Mashhrawi, his body held by his grief-stricken father, Jihad:

Jihad Al-Mashhrawi holding his baby son Omar, killed in Israeli strike on Gaza - 14 November 2012

Photo by Anne Paq of Activestills, posted on the Flickr photostream here.

One of the accusations against Jaabari was that he was responsible for the operation that captured IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit just outside the Gaza perimter near the Israeli crossing of Kerem Shalom in June 2006. Shalit was held somewhere in Gaza until his release in October 2011 — after Egyptian-brokered negotiations carried out with Jaabari.

Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, said on Wednesday evening after the “precision” strike that hit Jaabari’s car in Central Gaza, that Gilad was “still absorbing” the news.

The New York Times reported here that:

    “Military officials in Israel, which took credit for killing Mr. Jabari, said their forces had carried out additional
    airstrikes in Gaza targeting what they described as ‘a significant number of long-range rocket sites’ owned by Hamas that
    had stored rockets capable of reaching 25 miles into Israel. The statement said the airstrikes had dealt a ‘significant
    blow to the terror organization’s underground rocket-launching capabilities’. The Israel Defense Forces said Mr. Jabari had been targeted because he ‘served in the upper echelon of the Hamas command and was directly responsible for executing terror attacks against the state of Israel in the past number of years’. A video released by the Israel Defense Forces and posted on YouTube showed an aerial view of the attack on what it identified as Mr. Jabari’s car on a Gaza street as it was targeted and instantly blown up in a pinpoint bombing. The Israel Defense Forces later posted a Twitter message showing a mug shot of Mr. Jabari overwritten by the word ‘eliminated’.”

Continue reading “Day 2 of IDF Operation Pillar of Clouds – Today is Palestinian Independence Day”

Mahmoud Abbas visits Solidarity tent in Ramallah – UPDATED with UNRWA retraction

Mahmoud Abbas visits Ramallah solidarity tent - Thurs 10 May 2012
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas visited the Ramallah / Al-Bireh solidarity tents on Thursday afternoon.  It was a rare public outing for a man who travels around Ramallah in a 14-car convoy [including an ambulance] on streets where all traffic has to be stopped, and where armed men stand watch at regular intervals all along the route.  To the right of Mahmoud Abbas is the PA Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs, Issa Qaraqe.  Photo by Ma’an is posted here.

The prelude:  On Wednesday, a group of Palestinian protesters stood in front of the UN Office in Ramallah, and also apparently an UNRWA office in Ramallah as well, disrupting work for the day.   In Geneva, a smaller group took signs and went down to the UN Office in Geneva to explain the reason for the protest outside the Ramallah office.

Then: later on Wednesday,  at UN Headquarters in New York, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon issued a statement in the UNSG’s name saying that he “stressed the importance of averting any further deterioration in the condition of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody who are on hunger strike, and urged everyone concerned to reach a solution to their plight without delay.  ‘The Secretary-General continues to follow with concern the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody, in particular those held in what is known as administrative detention’, according to information provided by his spokesperson.  ‘He stresses the importance of averting any further deterioration in their condition’, the spokesperson added. ‘He reiterates that those detained must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees, or released without delay‘.”  [emphasis added]

This is posted on the UN website here.

Continue reading “Mahmoud Abbas visits Solidarity tent in Ramallah – UPDATED with UNRWA retraction”

UN Security Council passes unanimous resolution to send 30 unarmed military observers as advance team of monitors to Syria

The UN Security Council met with relative efficiency on Saturday afternoon at UNHQ/NY and voted unanimously [15-0] to send an advance team of some 30 unarmed military observers to Syria, as an advance team of monitors to observe compliance with a six-point plan by “Joint Envoy” Kofi Annan to stop the violence that has killed nearly 10,000 Syrians over the last year [as the current President of the UNSC, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice noted], and made at least 45,000 flee their country.

Some 5 or 6 of the observers were to arrive within hours — Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that one Russian would be coming from the Golan Heights [Syrian-claimed territory occupied by Israel since June 1967].

Another 20 military observers were supposed to be in Damascus within 24 hours.

Kofi Annan, former UNSG who now represents both the current UNSG BAN Ki-Moon and the Arab League, is due to present a more detailed plan by 18 April for a more substantial UN “supervising” mission in Syria.

Russia and China, who vetoed a previous proposed UNSC resolution on Syria, said that they could go along with this one because it respected Syrian government sovereignty…

Russia’s representative, Vitaly Churkin, complained at length however about hearing other representatives on the Security Council misrepresent the terms of the resolution — the

Syria’s representative Jaafari said that the resolution was not balanced, but added that his government would live with it because of the need to reestablish order in the country. Jaafari bitterly blamed outsiders — he named Saudi Arabia as one — for interfering, due to a long-standing rivalry between “Pan-Arabism and Political Islam”. And Jaafari blamed money coming from “Salafist and Wahhabi” sources for the acts of terror that he said have been committed by gangs operating throughout the country…

UNSG BAN in Jerusalem with Netanyahu, in Ramallah with Abbas

UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon met Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem today, then Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

After both meetings, there was a press conference.

In Jerusalem with Netanyahu, BAN said “Settlements do not help the peace process… I told the prime minister that he should refrain from future construction”. [Just future construction? The goalposts keep getting moved…]

Netanyahu reportedly told BAN that the settlement issue must be discussed during negotiations, “it can’t be a precondition”… [So, the Palestinians need to negotiate about settlements? Somehow, this sounds different than just saying settlements are one of the final status issues in negotiations…]

According to the New York Times, “Mr. Netanyahu thanked Mr. Ban for his ‘good intentions’, but he said the settlement question should be dealt with as part of a final agreement. ‘It cannot be a precondition to enter into that agreement’, he said”. This is published here.

This NYTimes story added: “An Israeli official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue said Israel was ‘ready for mutual confidence-building measures in the framework of a peace process that is moving forward’ — in other words, as long as the measures came with guarantees that the Palestinians would stick with the talks. He would not specify what steps they might include. Another Israeli official said that in a closed meeting with Mr. Peres, Mr. Ban suggested that Israel, as the stronger party, should release Palestinian prisoners as one way of improving the atmosphere”…

In Ramallah with Abbas, BAN said “A viable Palestinian state is long overdue. I continue to believe a two-state solution is long overdue … The international community has been clear: all settlements are contrary to international law … [In the “exploratory” talks recently in Amman] the Palestinians have been forthcoming in producing proposals on territory + security, and I very much hope Israel will present their proposals. This is what I told Israeli leaders today”.

BAN also said, in answer to a question from the press, that “I fully share the Palestinians’ complaint that they have been under occupation for such a long time, suffering all these hardships without prospects of knowing when this will be over … We have wasted almost 20 years since Oslo … [But] negotiations is the best way to get results”.

Travelling with BAN was the former UN Special Envoy here, Terje Roed Larsen [who is still working on the Lebanon dossier]…

The long-serving Ambassador of the Observer Mission of Palestine, Riyad Mansour, was also present.

BAN added, in response to another question, that “On 23rd September I received the Palestinian application for UN membership, and I immediately conveyed it to the UN Security Council. I made it immediately clear that I fully support the aspiration of the Palestinian people to become a UN member within the framework of two states … it’s still in the hands of the UN Security Council”.

Abbas told BAN: “Mr. Secretary-General, I hope to be able to host you soon in an independent state”…

But, Abbas said, in response to a question from the press, that “We toured the whole world to get 9 votes in the UN Security Council, though I knew at the end that we faced the veto … Unfortunately, we did not achieve our goal of getting 9 votes … At some point we will review all our steps in the near future”.

He also said there was “a need to stop the campaign of arrests” and to free detained parliamentarians”…

Abbas, in his remarks, did not insult the Quartet … instead, he offered a light but rather indistinct compliment.

The Chief Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat was seated in the front row, during the press conference [next to Terje Roed Larsen], and PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi was there as well.

“In the end”, Abbas said, I wish to assert that what we want is a two-state solution within the 1967 borders, and the need to end the Israeli presence on all our territory, including the Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem”.

[Last week, at the end of the 5th “exploratory meeting” in Amman in which Israeli + Palestinian negotiators sat together for the first time a long time, an Israeli envoy made sweepingly broad indications of Israel’s territorial interests — and said Israel wanted to keep a security presence along the Jordan River…]

Tomorrow, BAN is going to Gaza in the morning, and will address the Herzliya Conference at 8 PM, before flying back to New York after midnight.

[Earlier on this trip away from New York, the UNSG was in Ethiopia; Davos, Switzerland, and Amman…]

Abbas asks for UN membership for the State of Palestine, Netanyahu says Palestinians must make peace first

Mahmoud Abbas got a second series of standing ovations — a week after he told his people from Ramallah on 16 September that he was going to ask the UN Security Council for full UN membership for the State of Palestine — on 23 September, when he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York.

At the same time, tens of thousands of Palestinians came together in central squares of major West Bank cities to watch the speech, despite an unexpected September rain and cool weather. They were electrified, transported, that Mahmoud Abbas actually went through with what he said he would do: apply to the UN Security Council to ask for full UN membership for the state of Palestine — because, as Mahmoud Abbas argued, it is their right, and they deserve it.

[In 1988, after the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] read a Declaration of Independence at a meeting of the PLO’s Palestine National Council in Algiers in November 1988. In the aftermath, the UN General Assembly took note of the Declaration, and upgraded the PLO from observer national liberation movement to observer organization. At the time, in 1988, the PLO was going to ask for a seat for Palestine in the UN General Assembly hall — even if they would have to leave it symbolically vacant. But, they backed down, in the face of certain international opposition.

The Palestinian leadership could have have asked for UN membership decades ago. But, by waiting, this “UN bid” has been made by the PLO’s Provisional Government, which is the PLO Executive Committee — not by a government in exile, which it would have been in 1988…

Contrary to two earlier indications, Abbas met the UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon just before delivering his speech, and handed over the official Palestinian application — which Abbas signed as President of the State of Palestine, and Chairman of the PLO.

A few hours later, the Washington Post’s UN correspondent Colum Lynch posted the official PLO letter, plus a transmittal letter by UNSG Ban, and a distribution note from the current President [Lebanon] of the UN Security Council for the month of September, here.

The full text of Abbas’s speech to the UNGA can be found here, or here.

Here are some excerpts:

“We aspire for and seek a greater and more effective role for the United Nations in working to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in our region that ensures the inalienable, legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people as defined by the resolutions of international legitimacy of the United Nations…

UPDATE: Though some were not happy, it is fair to say that even some of those Palestinians who have been most critical of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership were pleased. Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiyeh [Popular Resistance, based in Bethlehem] wrote on his blog, here:

“Mahmoud Abbas gave a brilliant speech at the United Nations, getting rounds of applause from most of the representatives. I think it demonstrated clearly and unambiguously that the Palestinian leadership has been “unreasonably reasonable” and has instead seen the hopes of peace and of millions of Palestinians suffering for 63 years dashed on the rock of Israeli expansionist, colonial, and apartheid policies. He explained that Israel has been taking one unilateral action after another each resulting in more pain and suffering for our people. Going to the UN, he explained is putting things back where the problems started (he did not use the last two words but I do). He said a word that I think he should defend strongly that
no person or country with an iota of logic or conscience should reject the Palestinian state membership in the UN or its formation in the 22% of historic Palestine that is the West Bank and Gaza. I think he took a courageous step and gave a good performance”.

Israeli activist Uri Avnery [Gush Shalom, journalist and former Knesset member] issued a statement saying: ” ‘Mahmud Abbas has taken the excuses out of Netnayhau’s hands. The State of Palestine, under his leadership, is fully ready to make peace with the State of Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders, to resume negotiations if no settlement facts are created on the land subject to negotiations – but the Palestinians are not ready to continue to live under occupation … The State of Palestine will not arise tomorrow, and a long and hard road awaits all of us until this state becomes a reality and takes its rightful place as the Palestinians’ national state and Israel’s partner for peace. Still, today will be counted among the key historical dates in the history of our region. Netanyahu’s answering speech was nothing but a cheap compilation of propaganda, with rejection of the Palestinian offer and intransigent refusal to end the occupation packed in “security” rhetoric and clichés. The “Palestinian state” envisioned in Netahyhau’s speech would be “demilitarized” but have a heavy Israeli military presence in its territory. In practice, there is reason to doubt Netanyahu intends to let any kind of Palestinian state come into being or withdraw from any territory, and his speech in practice left nothing to negotiate about. By a blatant interference in American internal politics, Netanyahu has bent the US to his will. He forced the President of the United States to deliver at the UN a Zionist and cynical speech, contradicting and nullifying Obama’s own previous positions, and assured a US veto and outright opposition to Palestinian aspirations. But it was a pyrrhic victory for Netanyahu – he has been shown the entire world that the United States is not suitable to serve as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians … If and when negotiations resume between Israel and the Palestinians, it will be necessary to find a mediator or mediators more appropriate and fair – which confirms the Palestinians in their decision to move the focus of diplomatic activity from the White House to the UN Headquarters”.

The Israel Project called the speech hate-filled. Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman said it was provocation. And hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Palestinians felt that it was an accurate, concise, restrained description of their suffering.

Continue reading “Abbas asks for UN membership for the State of Palestine, Netanyahu says Palestinians must make peace first”

Obama: Palestinians deserve…

U.S. President Barack Obama, in his annual address to the UN General Assembly, said Wednesday that “Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state”.

As if they don’t know. Or — as if someone else should tell them.

Since their 1988 Declaration of Independence, the Palestinian National Council agreed to form their state with the borders of June 4, 1967 — the eve of the war which saw Israel conquer the West Bank and the Gaza Strip [and the Golan Heights].

In 2008, as the U.S.-brokered Annapolis direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians faltered, then-Secretary of State Condoleezzaa Rice said that defining the borders between them would help define which Israeli Jewish settlements in the West Bank [if any] would be “legal”.

Obama’s words today at the UN go even further…

“One year ago, I stood at this podium and called for an independent Palestine. I believed then – and I believe now – that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May. That basis is clear, and well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.

Later, Obama met Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was very pleased with the Obama statement, and after that, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, with a weary and disillusioned Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who had put his head on the desk in front of him during part of the Obama speech.

Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said later that both men had reiterated their positions.

Haaretz reported later that “U.S. President Barack Obama told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday that UN action would not achieve a Palestinian state and the United States would veto any Security Council move to recognize Palestinian statehood, the White House said. ‘We would have to oppose any action at the UN Security Council including, if necessary, vetoing’, Ben Rhodes, the White House national security council spokesman, told reporters after Obama met Abbas in New York. PLO diplomatic envoy to the U.S. Maen Rashid Erekat told Haaretz that the U.S. President ‘reiterated the commitment of the U.S. to the establishment of the Palestinian state, as part of the two-state solution, and stressed the position of the US that the UN is not the right venue to reach this goal.” This article is posted here.

There were demonstrations in the West Bank on Thursday denouncing the Obama speech, and a number of Palestinian writers found a ready acceptance in American publications for their English-language Op-Ed articles or blog submissions.

But, Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiating team did not escape criticism either, from other articles such as this one published on the Al-Jazeera English-language website, here.

The pressure on Mr. Abbas in New York has been immense, and he has reportedly felt both isolated, and abandoned.

There are rumors that he is preparing to resign when he returns to Ramallah — though from which of his three posts [Chairman of the PLO, President of the Palestinian Authority, leader of the Fatah movement] is not entirely clear.

An extraordinary article in the New York Times today’s paper [Thursday], reported from both a reception in New York and Jerusalem, says that “Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, met secretly with Mr. Abbas three times in recent months in efforts to … avoid a United Nations battle. Mr. Netanyahu ultimately pulled the plug on those talks, leaving Mr. Abbas a sense of having no alternatives. Mr. Peres said in an interview in Jerusalem that he tried to convince Mr. Abbas that United Nations membership would not help because what is needed is independence for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis, and the United Nations can deliver neither. ‘He told me, “I’m alone, betrayed by the United States, betrayed by Israel and by everyone else”, ‘Mr. Peres recalled from a recent conversation. Mr. Abbas echoed those sentiments on Tuesday night. Terje Roed-Larsen, a former United Nations envoy to the Mideast who now leads the International Peace Institute in New York, hugged him and asked for a meeting later in the evening. ‘Tonight our schedule is full with the Americans’, Mr. Abbas replied. ‘They want us to meet, but we don’t, really we don’t want’. Mr. Larsen asked why he was going then. ‘I don’t know why really’, Mr. Abbas said,’I am not happy with anybody, not with the Americans, nor the Arabs. I am fed up with all these people and I don’t know what to do when I return back’.” Abbas’ weary, unguarded, unwise words to Terje Roed-Larsen are published here.

Part of what makes this so interesting is that it is not clear how the NYTimes heard this conversation — was its UN correspondent Neil MacFarquhar standing right beside the two men [Terje Roed-Larsen, former UN Special Envoy, and former Foreign Minister of Norway when he hosted Palestinians and Israelis for talks that led to the Oslo Accords]? Or, did Mr. Roed-Larsen pass this conversation on to the NYTimes?

It is also interesting to recall that Roed-Larsen himself was, in July 2004, once called persona non grata by Palestinian presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh — then working with Yasser Arafat — after Roed-Larsen told the UN Security Council that “The Palestinian leader is under house arrest but this isn’t an excuse for passivity + inaction”.

Continue reading “Obama: Palestinians deserve…”

What is the UNSG's position on Palestinian state membership in UN?

In this Al-Jazeera International interview with a nicely designed set — possibly in the UNSG’s 38th floor office, it seems — UNSG BAN Ki-Moon speaks with Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, and says:

“Membership in UN is something that is up to the member states of the UN … It does not fall within my mandate according to the Charter of the United Nations

UNSG BAN also says:

“My only wish and hope is that we will not see any confrontational atmosphere in the UNGA over this issue.

“As a committed proponent of the two-state solution … the realization of that vision has been long overdue … Within that context I have been a strong proponent. I’m not in a position to prejudge any outcome which course of action the Palestinian president will take because I have not received any letter of application whatever … I’m going to have a bilateral meeting with the Palestinian leader in NY [the appointment has not been fixed yet]

“I have always been supporting the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspirations to have an independent state

“It is only natural that after such a loooooong time that the Palestinian people have been frustrated and trying to reach some of their goals. Whatever road they may choose is up to them … Now we are talking about recognition of a state within the UN or the admission of a state as a full member of the United Nations … but as far as their legit concerns and their aspirations or their enduring their sufferings, I fully sympathize…”

This video is posted both on Youtube here. and on the Al-Jazeera English-language website, here.

Former IDF Chief of Staff says "We're sorry" – just hours before release of UN report on Mavi Marmara deaths

Former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz [Haloutz] said today: “We are sorry people were killed during the operation, very sorry“. He was speaking about the Israeli naval interception of the Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2012, at a briefing for journalists organized at rather short notice today at the Mishkenot Shaananim center in Jerusalem.

Is that an unofficial/official apology?

Halutz added: “I believe there were some innocent ones among those nine, but…that mission was not so innocent”.

Halutz told the journalists at the press briefing that the “The word apology is too strong…because Israel was doing a legal action to prevent [a violation] of the siege we imposed”. And, Haloutz added: “Our soldiers were under a live threat”.

Yes, it looks like Haloutz had already been briefed about what was in the UN report, and yes, it sure looks like an attempt at a finessed Israeli apology.

Halutz was IDF Chief of Staff from 2005-2007, and was previously commander of the Israeli Air Force, and he said today
that he made many trips to Turkey in his professional capacity. But, Halutz is now retired from active military service, having been severely criticized for Israel’s military performance during the Second Lebanon War — and dabbled in business before joining, just eight months ago, the opposition Kadima party led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni [who ran a hard-fought campaign against the current Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in the last Israeli general elections in February 2009, and she continues to be very critical of Netanyahu’s conduct of office].

Halutz’s profile is perfect for making an unofficial [yet somehow official] apology.

The timing and purpose of the press briefing would otherwise seem…vague. He appeared at the press briefing in the company of a professional Public Relations man.

After his meeting with journalists, Haloutz smoked a quick cigarette in the sunshine outside, then turned and quickly bounded up three flights of stone stairs, taking the whole rise two steps at a time. The PR man, also in as good [military-grade] shape, followed one step behind.

A few hours later, the New York Times posted a leaked, advance copy of the “Final” Report commissioned by the UN Secretary-General on how to avoid a repetition of the mayhem and deaths that occurred during the Israeli naval interception on the high seas of a Freedom Flotilla aiming to break the Israeli siege on Gaza. During the pre-dawn Israeli raid on the 600-passenger Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, nine Turkish men [including one Turkish-American high school student] were shot to death.

The UN Report states that all nine appeared to have been unarmed.

The UN report, which the NYTimes posted on its website today here, says that “The events of 31 May 2010 should never have taken place as they did”.

It also says that “The incident and its outcomes were not intended by either Turkey or Israel … But more could have been done to warn the flotilla participants of the potential risks involved and to dissuade them from their actions”.

Continue reading “Former IDF Chief of Staff says "We're sorry" – just hours before release of UN report on Mavi Marmara deaths”